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Beginner's Heart

Beginner's Heart

beneath winter

via pixabay

via pixabay

In winter, much happens out of sight. Magic is uncurling beneath piles of frost-blackened leaves, beneath the glistening canvas of snow. In dormant hives, bees cluster around the queen, warming her w/ their own bodies. And in burrows, sleepy rabbits, foxes, & moles prepare for spring births.

I’ve always loved winter. It seems to me to brim with infinite possibility, while still affording the peace to dream of each one. It’s curling up in a chair beneath a warm fleecy throw, w/ a book on the octopus. It’s making hot chocolate w/ prime chocolate, and adding a few more marshmallows (because there really is no such thing as too many!). It’s the certainty that you are warm, cosy, & safe.

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Even though so many aren’t. And that’s the knife-edge of privilege.

Via Google

Via Google

Warmth is one of the most basic of privileges, in the winter. My elder son, DIL, & grandson are in the middle of the East Coast snow dump, more than a foot of snow expected (maybe two!). But their house is a remodel, w/ great heat. So I don’t have to worry, like I would if they were off in the Big Woods, or on the icy prairie a century ago. Modern conveniences (mod cons, as the Brits say) offer heat, hot water, and light. It’s only when those disappear that we talk about ‘disasters.’

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Our everyday American life is a LOT to be thankful for. And something I rarely take for granted, after living in countries where electricity, water, and basic supplies (toilet paper!) sometimes disappeared for days on end.

Beneath the the surface of my winter — safely cocooned in the comfort of gas heat & electric light — I’m free to plan gardens that will bloom come summer. Free to dream of the ocean when it warms up. Free not to worry about my sons, each to his own battered coastline, struggling w/ the contretemps of blizzards & icy storms.

Let’s hear it for ordinary privilege: heat, light, refrigeration, and clean laundry. All those things we need before we can go back to musing…

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the art of interdependence

via google

via google

I love reading my horoscope. I won’t go so far as to say I believe it, but often it really does hit the nail, etc. Spot-on, as a Brit friend of mine would say.

Today was one of those days.

I’m involved in several non-profit organisations. (When you work cheap — free! — folks ask you to do so…a LOT.) And sometimes, the requirements to do a good job overlap with family commitments, w/other organisations, w/illness, etc. To the point where I can grow to feel overwhelmed.

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But here’s the deal: a word from anyone (even an online horoscope :) ) can remind us what our values are, and that working for larger goals requires that we cede some of our autonomy those lovely hours when nothing looms to working as a team. It means juggling family needs — however immediate & pressing — w/conferences, advocacy, meetings & other commitments. And it’s not that it’s onerous: a 40-hour workweek it isn’t! Even though it takes time & effort (like trees, which are such needy things in early years!), it bears fruit. Like…well, trees.

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via wikimedia

via wikimedia

My horoscope this week — the week I totally spaced on an important meeting, the week I had to tell someone that I was waiting to hear from family re: commitments that had just been written across my previously blank calendar — was succinct:

If you want the power to help shape group processes, you must give up some of your autonomy. In order to motivate allies to work toward shared goals, you need to practice the art of interdependence.

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You don’t get much more overt than THAT!

It’s true, though. If we want to be part of the solution, we have to BE part of it. We have to show up. We have to do the slogging work, not just be greedy piglets for what few perks may come. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t continue to be difficult (at least for me) to schedule these my many priorities: a supportive visit to family, a meeting, a conference, a dinner honouring a guest. I struggle almost daily w/how to parse my own values, if that makes sense. I am my parents’ daughter, so family is always at the top of any list. And yet… I also have to ‘show up’ for these children of my heart — social justice, the arts, mentees who need letters of reference, recommendations, and other motions of support that require time & scheduling.

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the author's

the author’s

Remember the meme going around for a while, about the rocks in your jar? For me, it became pebbles in a bowl a dear friend chose for me. Each pebble a week, one swallowed permanently by time’s greedy throat. And how I spend each one is all I have control over. So when I choose one each Sunday, to represent that week’s activities, what I’m also doing is giving a colour value, a weight & tangible heft, to my values. This week’s pebble was all different shades of brown & cream, almost muddy. But since my ‘pebbles’ are polished, the browns are a bit clearer. :) And that’s good. Because while my values do bleed together, at the same time each person or organisation or cause has different, separate needs.

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Maybe this makes no sense at all (my beloved often reminds me that most folks do NOT get my metaphors!). But this is, fundamentally, how I think, how I make sense of the world around me. In pictures rocks in a jar, pebbles in a bowl and stories and signs a fortune from a horoscope, the planting of a tree. I hope it works at least a little for you, too. So that you begin to pay more attention to how you spend your time. Because how we spend our time is where we show up. Which is, of course, where our values are. It’s all interconnected: values, time, priorities, our people and their needs. Hence the interdependence. Kind of like, oh, that old Buddhist web…

 

 

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the heart of the family

the author

the author

Today my niece, nephew, & my delightfully vocal grand-niece came over. I’d made chowder & skillet cornbread, and my husband had railroad ties to go. It was a good plan: I got to coo over all three ‘kids’!

Little makes me as happy as babies and family. And when I have both in one room — my accomplished niece and her elf princess daughter — I’m beyond content.

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I have no idea how America managed before decent transportation. When I was a child, I read all the Little House books. One of the (many) things that remained with me was the isolation of the various moves, from a lengthy trip through the Big Woods to the middle-of-nowhere prairie. What I remember was the necessity of relying on only your nuclear family, as no one else could reach you w/out a LOT of effort.

As the child who grew up spending weeks one end at a beloved aunt’s, or a grandmother’s, or even a great-aunt’s, I was a sure of my extended family as I was of the sun. Until we moved, when I was eight. At that point, I hadn’t read the Little House books, and I was certain my grandmother & great-aunt would disappear. Life, I believed, was only in the immediate present. W/out me there? Grandma, Aunt Bonnie — all my old ladies and younger ones — would thin at the edges like a photo from time travel gone awry.

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the author's

the author’s

This past week has been full of family, which has grown my beginner’s heart at least two sizes! There was tea, there was visiting, there were photo shoots and old stories, and finding out things I never knew (and I’m a pretty hardcore collector of family stories!). All three of my sisters and I took one of my two remaining aunts to high tea — real high tea, w/ food for dinner and scones, sweets, etc. As well as POTS of tea, of course. Later, we met my other aunt & her 2 daughters for coffee.

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I should be familied out, but instead? I’m warm, cozy, and loved. My aunts still remember me as a baby. As the preschooler who was flower girl in each of their weddings. As the rebellious teenager who needed counselling & affirmation. As the hesitant young mother of sons. As the daughter grieving as their sister descended into the black hole of Alzheimer’s. And now? They indulge me in my novice rôle of grandmother, a part they each have played to perfection, for many years. With their support, I’m one pearl in a long string of precious pearls. We go back decades; they go back further. We are the offspring of pioneer women, teachers, mothers & healers & brave divorcées. History beats within us, linked hearts in a chain of family.

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via wikimedia

via wikimedia

For those of us seeking to expand our limited human hearts, family is a wonderful first step. It’s easy to love your aunts, cousins, nieces. And of course who doesn’t love my sisters?? Seriously — the Dalai Lama reminds us that it is easy to love our mothers, but that we need to try to extend from that starting point, that first bright point of love. He says begin with what easy, then step out. This is how I do it, with the easiest of open embraces: my mother’s sisters, daughters, and grandchildren. And my own. It’s no hardship at all. Just the recognition of all that connects us.

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the taste of tea, and paying attention

holiday tea with grandmother's small tea set2

the author’s

You can’t drink the ‘best’ tea everyday. Or it becomes the everyday tea. (Not to mention it’s expensive!) But this morning, after a friend sent me the New Yorker excerpt of Paul Kalanithi’s autobiography (My Last Day as a Surgeon), I immersed myself in the process of my ‘everyday’ tea. The fragrance of the steam rising from the pot as I lift the strainer of loose leaves to drain. Settling the cosy so it covers the entire base of the teapot. Watching the sugar cube melt as I dip it repeatedly into the cup, so that entire cube isn’t dissolved (too sweet for this tiny cup!). Pouring the milk from the pitcher, and following the swirl of light into darkness.

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the author's

the author’s

And it dawned on me: Sundays ~ when I break out the Hao Ya tea ~ I pay no more attention to the tea than any other harried day. Which is such a loss! Today, watching the Fortnum & Mason Jubilee tea send its spiral of fragrance up from the small tea spout, I thought about how often I waste moments. When I could (should!) be paying attention. Reading of how Paul Kalanithi viewed his last surgery, how he draped the cloth, how he methodically stitched skin together I realised: now really is all I have. 

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I know…I’ve had this epiphany a hundred times before! But today? In the wake of a couple of deaths of people I love, it’s the more poignant, the more immediate. There are so very many amazing things in each day — Hector the cat stretched out on the desk beside me, basking in the lamp’s gentle heat. Crisp winter air as I let the dogs out. My sister’s visit from out of town. The taste of tea…

So I’m going to try — again! — to pay more attention. To be here, in this very moment, NOW. Watching my arthritic hands type — something they still do well & quickly. Not ignoring the arthritis, but being glad of the nimbleness still working for me. I’m going to really TASTE my tea (which has now grown completely cold…hmmm).

And you? What are you going to pay attention to, today? Knowing that really? It’s only this moment that’s guaranteed.

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